Monday, April 20, 2015


On April 9, 1865, 150 years ago this month, Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, signaling the beginning of the end of the Civil War.

After Lee’s hold on Richmond and Petersburg broke, he hoped to take his army to meet up with Joseph E. Johnston‘s troops. But things came to a head with the Union Army as Lee neared Appomattox Court House. On April 6, he lost 8,000 men to the Federals in engagements at Sailor’s (Sayler’s) Creek. Grant, aware that Lee’s already dwindling army was now at an even further disadvantage, sent him a message suggesting surrender. Lee was not ready to surrender but did ask Grant for his terms.

Lee hoped to break through the Union troops that were blocking his army’s progression and planned a last ditch attempt for the morning of the 9th. When it became clear that this attempt would fail, Lee, having already dismissed the possibility of resorting to guerrilla warfare, arranged to meet with Grant to surrender his army.

The two generals met in a home in Appomattox Court House later that day. Lee dressed in his best, while Grant, whose baggage had gone astray some days prior, arrived in a mud-stained uniform. The terms of surrender stated that all arms, artillery, and public property (except officers’ side arms and horses) were to be turned over, and that the paroled men, both officers and enlisted, were to return to their homes and not take up arms again until properly exchanged. Grant also allowed Lee’s two requests: that the enlisted men also be permitted to keep their own horses and that rations be provided for his starving army.

The official surrender ceremony occurred a few days later, on the 12th. Though Lee’s army had surrendered, the war wasn’t over. There were still other Confederate troops in the field. But the Army of Northern Virginia had not only been the most successful of the Confederate armies, it—and Lee—had also taken on a symbolic power. So as other Confederate generals heard of Lee’s surrender, they too began to capitulate over the next month. President Andrew Johnson officially declared an end to hostilities on May 9.

Interested in learning more about Lee’s surrender or about other aspects of the Civil War? Explore Fold3’s Civil War Collection.

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